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Kalagas - Burmese Bead Embroidered Wall Hangings

My friend and colleague, Nancy, has been a globetrotter all her adult life and has brought home some pretty amazing souvenirs from exotic places. In the past she has kindly let me photograph and write about her African beaded mask, paua using pictures of her jewelry and actual paua abalone shells from New Zealand and also about pounamu or New Zealand jade illustrated with her jewelry.

She recently showed me this magnificient old heavily embroidered Burmese wall hanging she got back in the 1980's. Nancy had kept it all these years because she thought it was going to be too expensive to frame. But after we looked at it together, we decided it was best mounted with two curtain rods at the top and bottom. It is now on the wall of her home.

She actually purchased it in a marketplace in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. She has never been to Burma (Myanmar), a reclusive nation where travel in or out of the nation is severely restricted. At the time she bought it, there was some movement across the border by Burmese traders desperate for hard foreign currency.



These wall hangings are called kalagas and are intricately embroidered using sequins, beads, colored stones, small pearls, coral, braids, metallic threads on linen, velvet, silk or cotton. Nancy's kalaga has the typical centrally padded applique design filled with kapok or cotton -the part where the figure is mounted on a mythical beast. The design looks ancient but kalagas have only been around for the last 150 years. However, the use of gold threads and jewels go back more than 1000 years. The Burmese call this embroidery form "shwe chi-doe".



Kalagas were first developed in the Mandalay royal court and it quickly became popular not just as wall hangings but as curtains, room partitions and even coffin covers!! The designs used are inspired from very old stories which gives them an antique look. These are scenes from the ancient epic Hindu poem, the Ramayana, or from Buddhist mythology. Every bit of the finished piece is covered so you can imagine that a large piece could take months to complete! You can see several pictures of traditional kalagas stretched on frames and being made here. See below for more interesting Burma related past posts.



References
Kalaga wall hanging
Burmese Tapestries or Kalagas

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The Brass Neck Coils of the Padaung Hill Tribe Women
The Son of Heaven's Jade Obsession
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